Saturday, June 18, 2016

Confusion in the Codicological Ranks: "Folios and Bifolios" vs. "Folia and Bifolia"

Having been working with Greek codices recently, I have been faced with the complicated issue of what terminology to use in describing the codices. One particularly problematic term that I keep coming back to is what to call the leaves of a book, each of which has two pages, one on each side. My impression is that the most common way is simply to use the English word "leaf" or the technical term "folio" (plural "folios"), which means "leaf", which is apparently a late Latin form(?). But others prefer the older Latin form "folium" (pl. "folia"). For instance, in the monumental Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction, the authors consistently use "folium"/"folia", and reserve "folio" only for references to large format manuscripts "in folio".

A further complicating factor is what to call the sheet of material that is folded to create two leaves, one on either side of the central opening of the quire. Again, my impression is that most call it "bifolium"/"bifolia", but I have also seen "bifolio"/"bifolios". Contrary to what you might expect, however, scholars do not seem to use the forms consistently. Everyone who uses "folium"/"folia" seems to use "bifolium"/"bifolia", and pretty much everyone who uses "bifolio"/"bifolios" uses "folio"/"folios". But most people in fact mix the forms, using "folio"/"folios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"!

A little investigation on Google seems to confirm this. Google Ngrams yields the following results for "folio"/"folios" and "folium"/"folia":

Searching in Google Books for each of these terms in addition to "codicology" yields the following number of hits:

"folio"/"folios" = 5790/5790 hits
"folium"/"folia" = 161/664 hits

Thus, it seems clear that "folio"/"folios" is much more common in the field.

As mentioned above, however, Google suggests the opposite for "bifolio"/"bifolios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia":

"bifolio"/"bifolios" = 609/679 hits
"bifolium"/"bifolia" = 1300/1300 hits

Thus, "bifolium"/"bifolia" is the most common form.

This leads to the very confusing situation where the majority of scholars are using the form "folio"/"folios" for single leaves and the opposing form "bifolium"/"bifolia" for double leaves! No wonder there is so much confusion! Many scholars seem perfectly happy with this compromise solution. Others, like the COMSt authors cited above choose to use the older Latin forms consistently. An opposing trend I found interesting to note, however, is that since the 1970s we see a steady rise in the use of the (new?) form "bifolio"/"bifolios" as a counterpart for the ever-popular "folio"/"folios", such that it appears in about one-third of the publications around 2000.

I, for one, am frustrated to be caught in the midst of this turmoil, but perhaps that is unavoidable. Do I play it safe and go with the majority? Archaize? Or ride the trendy new "bifolio" wave into the future? Ask me again in 20 years, and I'll tell you... :) As for you, what is your preferred terminology?

Poll Results:

"leaf"/"leaves" and "double leaf"/"double leaves" = 3 (21%)
"folio"/"folios" and "bifolio"/"bifolios"                 = 4 (28%)
"folio"/"folios" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"               = 3 (21%)
"folium"/"folia" and "bifolium"/"bifolia"              = 5 (35%)

1 comment:

  1. Could we explain that by saying that folio (sing.) folios (plur.) is the english word (instead of saying that is a late latin form) and folium (sing. )folia (plur.) is the latin one. So that the alternation folium/folia/ in folio is consistent since in folio is the ablative of folium? According to your statistics it seems that scholars prefer the english folio\folios but when it comes to the term double leaf they use the latin term bifolium/bifolia. I agree it is a bit confusing but it seems coherent to me. Thanks for your post!